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4 The Big Slicks

Ray E. Boomhower Indiana University Press ePub

FOR MILLIONS OF VETERANS FOLLOWING THE END OF WORLD War II, their return home resembled what they had gone through upon their induction into military service: long waits in long lines. On Friday, February 16, 1946, after filling out the necessary paperwork at an army separation center at Camp Ulysses S. Grant near Rockford, Illinois, John Bartlow Martin achieved what he had been seeking for many months: discharge from the U.S. Army status as a civilian. He took a train to Chicago and by 8:00 PM was back home in Winnetka with his wife, Fran, and daughter, Cindy. Upon walking through the front door, Martin hugged his wife and turned to hug his daughter, and then the three of them embraced one another.1

Before returning home, Martin had written to Fran outlining his plans for the future. Someone had asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, and Martin had responded, “I told him – and meant it and rather surprised him and perhaps myself – I wanted to be happy with you, then wanted to write well, then wanted to make a lot of money. In that order. (The order of the last two isn’t quite as simple as it appears; it just means that I think I can make a very comfortable living AND write well, and if so I’d rather do it than write lousy and make a whole lot of money).” Martin added that he would take care of the final two items, but they were meaningless unless “you make me happy. And the best way to ensure that is for me to work a bit on making you happy. So that’s what I’m going to [do].”2

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9 The Return of the Native

Ray E. Boomhower Indiana University Press ePub

IN THE 1960S THE MAROTT HOTEL, LOCATED ON THE NEAR north side of Indianapolis at 2625 North Meridian Street, had faded from its original glory days of the 1920s and 1930s, when it had hosted key political and social events for the community and welcomed such famous guests as Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, and Herbert Hoover. On the evening of April 4, 1968, however, the hotel hummed once again with activity as staffers for U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy strolled up and down its hallways. They were staying there after the end of a long first day in Kennedy’s quest to win Indiana’s Democratic presidential primary. Kennedy’s senate speechwriters Adam Walinsky and Jeff Greenfield, along with a new member of the team, John Bartlow Martin, were busy discussing the details of a foreign policy speech their candidate was slated to deliver later at Louisiana State University when they were interrupted by a secretary, who told them that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot in Memphis, Tennessee. Later, while at dinner, they heard that King had died.1

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1 The Responsible Reporter

Ray E. Boomhower Indiana University Press ePub

THE BODIES BEGAN COMING UP FROM DEEP WITHIN THE BOWELS of the earth days after the first explosion at the Centralia coal mine on March 25, 1947. Members of the Illinois prairie community of Centralia began hearing about how an explosive charge meant to dislodge coal had ignited the unstable coal dust permeating the air more than five hundred feet below ground at the mine south of town in Wamac. The wives of the miners whose fate was not yet known gathered at the washhouse – the place where during the workweek their husbands changed out of their grimy, coal-streaked clothes at the end of their shifts. Avoiding the rescue teams wearing their oxygen tanks and “other awkward paraphernalia of disaster,” the women gravitated toward sitting beneath their loved ones’ clothing, settling in for the long wait to learn about their men’s fate.1

Friends and relatives of the trapped men gathered outside in the cold near the mouth of the mine hoping to hear any news. One was a young Illinois college student named Bill Niepoetter, who worried about his father, Henry, and three other relatives. “One rescue worker would come up and say, ‘It’s bad, there are not going to be any survivors,’” Niepoetter said. “The next one would come up and say, ‘It’s not going to be as bad.’ We had no notion.” Helplessness set in as Niepoetter viewed rescue workers emerging from the mine without any survivors. “They’d come up and you could see from their faces that this was not going to be a good week,” he said. Those miners not killed outright by the blast were poisoned by the carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide left behind in the atmosphere. Ambulances from Centralia and nearby towns idled their engines in the cold night air in an attempt by the men inside to keep warm as they waited to be called upon to transport the deceased to the local Greyhound bus station, which officials had converted into a temporary morgue. As a shiny limousine drove away from the mine, taking with it one of the 111 men killed in the disaster, a friend of the deceased, standing with others in the crowd, remarked, “I bet it’s the only time he ever rode in a Cadillac.” Four days after the blast, Niepoetter, who had gone to his grandmother’s house, learned that his father had been one of the victims. He had already made arrangements for a funeral. “Good thing I did – they sold a lot of caskets,” he said, recalling that for several days funeral processions made their solemn way down the road leading to the cemetery.2

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1 A Landmark for Peace

Ray E. Boomhower Indiana University Press ePub

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A Landmark for Peace

The Indianapolis parks and recreation department is responsible for administering approximately two hundred properties stretching over more than eleven thousand acres in the central Indiana city. One of these properties, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 1702 North Broadway Street on the city’s near north side, has within its fourteen acres the usual recreational components for an urban park—a basketball court, playground, softball field, picnic shelters, and an outdoor pool. As Center Township residents while away the hours at play, their eyes are no doubt sometimes drawn to one of the park’s most intriguing features, a sculpture titled A Landmark for Peace created by Indiana artist Greg Perry and placed in the park in 1995.1

The memorial, which is located at the park’s south end and includes in its construction guns melted down in a gun-amnesty program, features two curved panels facing one another. Near the top of each panel is a figure of a man with an arm and hand outstretched toward, but failing to touch, the other. The men depicted in the sculpture—neither of whom is alive to help bridge the racial gap that still exists today—are the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the former junior U.S. senator from the state of New York Robert F. Kennedy. By chance and the vagaries of a political campaign, the two are forever bound together in the park, and in Indiana and American history as well.

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2 The Decision

Ray E. Boomhower Indiana University Press ePub

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The Decision

Very early in the morning on Friday, March 22, 1968, Gerard Doherty, a Boston attorney, stepped off a plane that had just landed at Indianapolis’s Weir Cook Municipal Airport. At the behest of Ted Kennedy, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, he had left Washington in a snowstorm to come to Indiana to investigate whether there might be enough support for Robert Kennedy to run in the state’s May 7 Democratic primary. Five days earlier, Robert Kennedy had announced his intention to seek the Democratic presidential nomination. Doherty, the former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, was up against a tight deadline: just one week later all candidates for the Hoosier State primary had to submit to the secretary of state’s office the signatures of 5,500 registered voters—500 signatures from each of Indiana’s eleven congressional districts.

Before flying to Indianapolis, Doherty had stopped at the new Kennedy for President campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C., to be briefed on his assignment. Days earlier, after hearing that Robert Kennedy had decided to run for president, he had called Ted Kennedy’s office to volunteer his services. “I had just returned to the law business and I was chasing after ambulances,” Doherty recalled. “But, I said, I’m not going to … take apart paper clips and put them back together. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do, but it has to be meaningful.” Doherty got his wish. He flew on to Indianapolis expecting to be “greeted by thousands of cheering people”—the multitudes needed to run a successful political campaign. When he arrived, however, he soon discovered he could initially only count on the assistance of three young Hoosier Democrats: Michael Riley, Louie Mahern, and William Schreiber.1

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